2009 Ford Escape XLT 4WD Review


PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD
WITH CAREY RUSS

2009 Ford Escape XLT 4WD

After major revitalization to its Escape small crossover SUV last year, Ford could be forgiven for doing little or nothing to it for 2009. There are newer nameplates from the Blue Oval to steal the limelight, and business in general has been interesting, and not in the best of possible ways.

But there is still a demand for a vehicle that combines plenty of useful interior space with a small footprint and reasonable fuel economy, and to encourage that Ford has further developed the Escape for 2009 with a new four-cylinder engine -- also now used, in modified form, in the Escape Hybrid -- and enhancements to the 3.0-liter V6 for more power with less fuel. Small aerodynamic modifications also contribute to fuel efficiency and reduce interior noise levels. Anti-lock brakes and the AdvanceTrac¨ with RSC¨ (Roll Stability Control) stability control system are standard equipment in all models. Suspension re-tuning has improved ride and handling characteristics. Green is in in Dearborn, and last year's seat fabrics made from recycled materials are joined by soy-based foam padding. Easy Fuel(tm) capless refueling means no more lost gas caps.

Regular trim levels are XLS, XLT and Limited, with standard equipment levels varying from comfortably middle class to near-luxury, and enough options available to tailor an Escape to nearly every need or desire. For the first time, the Hybrid is offered in two levels, standard and Limited, which is equipped similarly to the gasoline Limited.

I've just finished a week with a 4WD V6 Escape XLT, and if the exterior aero changes were subtle, the functional changes were readily apparent and appreciated. The six-speed transmission and more powerful engine worked together for quick acceleration and reasonable fuel economy. The 21.5 mpg overall I got, with better possible (see below), was an improvement over the 18 to 20 of earlier V6 Escapes I've tested, and the effect of the extra 40 horsepower was welcome in freeway passing and merging situations.

As ever, the Escape strikes a good balance between a small exterior size, easily manageable in parking lots and narrow streets, and interior space. Add the recent drivetrain, suspension, and safety upgrades, and an improved interior, and it has stayed competitive in a tough environment.

APPEARANCE: As crossovers in general have abandoned the truck-like look, Ford has embraced that heritage in the Escape. The recent restyle, with more angular styling and a bold chrome grille, demonstrates this. It is very much the small sibling to the Explorer and Expedition, with no apologies. Changes for 2009 are aerodynamic, for increased fuel efficiency. Every fraction of a mile per gallon is important in the CAFE game. A deeper front spoiler and small spoilers in front of the rear wheels improve under-body airflow for decreased drag to slightly improve mileage. Approach and departure angles, at least for normal city use and my "rolled curb" driveway, are unaffected.

COMFORT: Last year's restyling also freshened the interior, with new materials and multiple textures. Fashion has not impaired function, as the instruments are shielded from glare and easy to see and the audio and climate system controls on the center stack are within easy reach. As has been typical of Ford for years, buttons and knobs are large and well-marked. The standard audio system plays both commercial and MP3 CDs, plus AM, FM, and Sirius satellite radio. An auxiliary jack allows attachment of an external audio player. The optional SYNC system adds voice activation and a USB port for MP3 files on a memory stick. Step-in height is reasonable, with seat cushion height close enough to hip level for most people for comfortable access. Once in the seats, the firmer new foam is an improvement over earlier seats in support and comfort. Perhaps the best interior feature is the console between the seats. Open the top, and it appears to be a standard deep box with a removable smaller top section. Not quite - the bottom section is also removable, to reveal a compartment large enough to hide a small laptop or camera bag or purse.

The rear bench seat is lightly contoured for two, but a center passenger is more than an afterthought, and a nearly-flat floor helps. A 60/40 split, with flip-up cushions that allow each section to be folded flat, for the passenger/cargo versatility and convenience expected in a crossover. The liftgate glass can be opened separately from the liftgate, to toss in small items, and a cargo cover is available.

SAFETY: The Escape's unibody chassis has front and rear crush zones with a central safety cage. Front, front side, and full-length side curtain "Safety Canopy" airbags, the AdvanceTrac with RSC stability enhancement system, a tire-pressure monitoring system, and antilock brakes are all standard equipment. The XLT has Ford's "Securi-Lock" keypad entry system, old-tech but a good way to store a key in a car for long-term parking.

RIDE AND HANDLING: As always, the Escape is made with car-like unibody construction and a fully-independent MacPherson strut/multilink suspension. Firmer shock damping and revisions to stabilizer bar specs have resulted in a smooth, comfortable ride with a notable lack of excessive lean in corners and wallowing over road undulations. The Michelin tires fitted to the Escape were designed and built expressly for it, and help reduce fuel consumption and road noise.

PERFORMANCE: Forty more horsepower with no penalty in fuel economy? There's a deal, because that is the result from internal revisions to the 3.0-liter twincam alloy Duratec V6 and the replacement of the old four-speed automatic with a new six-speed. Power is now 240hp at 6550 rpm, up from 200, with torque 223 lb-ft at 4300. Acceleration can be brisk when needed, with, according to Ford, a 1.7-second improvement in 0-60 time. The new transmission shifts smoothly and works well. Actual fuel economy may be monitored through the trip computer, and is very subject to driving style. With gentle acceleration and braking, and a top speed of 50 mph on good but non-highway secondary roads, I saw as much as 24 mpg. One full-throttle freeway merge saw that drop immediately to 18. Foot to floor, pour bucket of unleaded regular down intake... but do note that this is the same with any car. Unlike many small crossovers, the Escape can tow, as much as 3500 pounds with a V6 equipped with the towing package.

CONCLUSIONS: Drivetrain, aerodynamic, and interior improvements have kept the Ford Escape crossover SUV current.

SPECIFICATIONS: 2009 Ford Escape XLT 4WD

Base Price $ 25,875
Price As Tested $ 28,055
Engine Type dual overhead cam 24-valve
aluminum alloy V6
Engine Size 3.0 liters / 181 cu. in.
Horsepower 240 @ 6550 rpm
Torque (lb-ft) 223 @ 4300 rpm
Transmission 6-speed automatic
Wheelbase / Length 103.1 in. / 174.7 in.
Curb Weight 3578 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower 14.9
Fuel Capacity 16.5 gal.
Fuel Requirement 87 octane unleaded regular gasoline
Tires P235/70R16 104T Michelin Latitude tour
Brakes, front/rear vented disc / drum
Suspension, front/rear independent MacPherson strut /
independent multi-link
Drivetrain transverse front engine,
automatic part-time single-range
four-wheel drive
PERFORMANCE
EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
city / highway / observed
na / na / 21.5
0 to 60 mph est 7.5 sec
OPTIONS AND CHARGES
cargo package - includes:
lockable hidden wet trunk, roof rack with
cross bars, retractable cargo cover
$ 295
Leather Comfort Package - includes:
premium leather-trimmed seats, ambient lighting
$ 745
Sync voice-activated communications package $ 395
Destination Charge $ 745

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